Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, www.cgsusa.org.
Level 1 (ages 3-6)
Level II (ages 6-9)
Level III (ages 9-12)
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children which is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the church, and the educational principles of Maria Montessori. Children gather in an "atrium," a room prepared for them in size and content, which contains simple yet beautiful materials that children may use to explore religious life. The Catechists, or teachers, believe that God and the child --particularly before the age of six -- have a unique relationship with each other. The Catechist can assist the growth of this relationship but it is directed by the Spirit of God within the child. The Catechesis responds to the child's need to "help me to know God by myself."
All age levels focus on the life of Christ, the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, and on a range of parables. Level III adds the Hebrew scriptures. For ages 3-6, the heart of the Catechesis is the parable of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep by name and keeps them safe. For the 6-9 year old child, the focus is on the moral parables and the image of the True Vine: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing." The 9-12 year old child focuses on the history of salvation, God's plan in history, and our response to God's generosity.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was developed in the mid-20th century in Rome by Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar, and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi. Today there are Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria in 32 countries. In the United States there are hundreds of atria, mostly in Catholic and Episcopal parishes and schools.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is not a published curriculum. Teachers learn the Montessori method, the Catechesis lessons and atrium materials in special training courses. Carpenters, needleworkers and artists from the congregation usually make the materials, though many can be purchased.